Kit No. 5552
Decals: One version – Luftwaffe, 1945
Comments: Engraved panel lines, highly detailed cockpit, option for traditional straight-wing or forward swept-wing design, option for traditional twin-tail or “split-V” tail; detailed BMW 003E turbojet engine with option for hinged cowling to facilitate display; PE parts for instrument panel and other components
By mid-1944 Nazi Germany was on the defensive in the air war, with the Allies having won air superiority and on their way to achieving air supremacy. Vital raw materials, trained pilots, and fuel were increasingly scarce, with German industrial capacity and transportation networks under constant Allied air attack. It was in this crisis atmosphere that Heinkel’s He 162 was designed and built. The He 162 Volksjager or “People’s Fighter,” was the world’s fist single-engine jet fighter. It was partly based on Nazi armaments minister Albert Speer’s belief that a single-engine jet fighter made primarily of wood, and flown mostly by Hitler Youth, could stop the onslaught of Allied bombers that was systematically demolishing German cities and industry on a near-daily basis.
On September 8, 1944, with the Luftwaffe’s fighter arm increasingly ineffective, Allied armies in the West sweeping across France and pushing into Belgium, and the Red Army in the East forcing the Wehrmacht back into Germany, Oberst Siegfried Knemeyer of the RLM’s Technical Department issued a specification for “a single engine fighter…to be ready for the front by January 1, 1945…” The RLM approved Heinkel’s Volksjager design on September 25, 1944, and the first prototype flew just 72 days later, on December 6th. The He 162 was conceived as an interceptor, manufactured by prisoners of war and conscripted slave labor. The ambitious production goal of 1,000 aircraft per month was established. The He 162 was a tiny shoulder-wing, single seat, single engine monoplane powered by a BMW 003E turbojet mounted atop the fuselage aft of the cockpit. It could attain 522 mph at 19,700 feet with a range of 410 miles — translating to an endurance time of about 30 minutes.
Construction employed as little aluminum as possible, restricting this scarce metal to the flush-riveted, semi-monocoque fuselage, and employing all-wood wings, bolted to the the fuselage at four points, and a wooden nose cone. It had a narrow-track tricycle landing gear, retracting hydraulically into the fuselage and lowered by coil springs. Armament was initially two Mk 108 30mm cannon mounted in the lower nose, but was later switched to two Mk 151 20mm cannon when the last Mk 108 factory was overrun by the Red Army. The lone BMW 003E turbojet was centrally mounted on top of the fuselage and held in place by three bolts —
two forward and one aft. Jet fuel was pumped to the engine from two internal wing tanks. The position of the engine made the He 162 unstable along its longitudinal axis, and it was reportedly an unforgiving aircraft for the novice, requiring careful handling by experienced pilots. The first rule drummed into aspiring He 162 pilots was to use the control column in a continuous flowing movement, with no sudden or erratic moves, and no tight maneuvers. Experienced pilots used to throwing their aircraft around the sky had to take a very different approach with the Volksjager.
After a difficult training program marked by frequent moves to avoid Allied air attacks, the He 162 finally saw combat in mid-April 1945. On April 19th, a captured Royal Air Force fighter pilot informed his German interrogators that he had been shot down by a jet fighter matching the description of the He 162. The Heinkel and its pilot were lost as well, shot down by an RAF Hawker Tempest while on approach. Though still in training, I./JG 1 had scored a number of kills beginning in mid-April, but had also lost 13 He 162s and 10 pilots. 10 of the aircraft were operational losses, caused by flameouts and sporadic structural failures; the wooden construction of the He 162, high speeds at which it operated, and partial dependence on a special glue for the structural integrity of its wood components hampered its reliability somewhat. Only two of the 13 aircraft lost were actually shot down. The He 162’s 30-minute fuel capacity also caused problems, as at least two of JG 1’s pilots were killed attempting emergency landings after exhausting their fuel.
As the war ground to a close, many He 162s were captured by the Allies, and shipped to the U.S., Britain, France, and the USSR for further evaluation. However, Erprobungskommando 162 fighters, which had been passed on to JV 44, an elite jet unit under Adolf Galland, were all destroyed by their crews to keep them from falling into Allied hands. By the time of the German unconditional surrender on 8 May 1945, 120 He 162s had been delivered; a further 200 had been completed and were awaiting collection or flight-testing; and about 600 more were in various stages of production.
The difficulties experienced by the He 162 were caused mainly by its rush into production, not by any inherent design flaws. One experienced Luftwaffe pilot who flew it called it a “first-class combat aircraft.” This opinion was mirrored by Eric “Winkle” Brown of the Fleet Air Arm (FAA), who flew it not only during post-war evaluations, but went on to fly it for fun after testing had completed. He considered it delightful to fly, although the very light controls made it suitable only for experienced pilots. Like the Messerschmitt Me 262, the He 162 was a remarkable technological feat, but represented an aviation marvel entering the war too late in too little numbers to affect the outcome, seeing barely three weeks of combat before Nazi Germany’s final collapse.
The He 162D
Further development of the He 162A took the form of the He 162C, with swept back wings, and the He162D, featuring wings that were swept forward 25 degrees, with a split-V tail angled at 20 degrees, in lieu of the 162A’s twin tail design. Both the C and D were to have been powered by an HeS 011A turbojet of 2,886 pounds of thrust. Heinkel-AG’s designers estimated that the new powerplant would attain a maximum speed in level flight of 565 mph at 19,685 feet — an increase in top speed over the He 162A of 43 mph. However, no HeS 011A powerplants were ever mounted on an He 162 airframe, because the engine was never ready for field testing before the war in Europe ended. The He 162D never became operational, and remains a fascinating concept plane, one of the many “might have beens” of World War II, the stuff of “Luft ’46” fantasies…
Dragon’s He162D is injection molded in gray and consists of 74 plastic and 16 photo-etch parts, plus 4 additional metal parts (2 rods and 2 brackets) for the hinged engine covers. The instruction sheet is clear, well-illustrated and easy to understand. The kit’s engraved panel lines are nicely done, neither too heavy nor too light. The turbojet engine is well-detailed, its assembly alone consisting of 21 parts. The cockpit likewise is amply detailed, with a six-part seat, raised detail on the main instrument panel, as well as other detailed parts for a faithful replica of the Volksjager “office.” The main landing gear bay is well-detailed, and all tires have above-average detail but are a single piece, which is somewhat unusual for 1/48 scale — except among aftermarket tires. There are markings for a single version, and they do not include the Nazi swastika. While this may be due to political correctness, it should be remembered that the He 162 was both rushed into production and into operational service as Nazi Germany was collapsing, and there are several photographs of the Volksjager both with and without the swastika during its brief wartime service.
A great kit of one of Germany’s “wonder weapons,” an innovation which entered the war too late to affect the outcome. Highly recommended for level of detail and historical interest.
- X-Planes of the Third Reich: Heinkel He 162 by David Myhra